Legerdemain (1994) · 10.5 min

for large orchestra, Yamaha SY99, and real-time signal processing

3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones (3rd, bass), tuba, timpani, 3 percussionists, piano, YAMAHA SY99 synthesizer, Mac laptop running Max/MSP), strings

Program Note

Legerdemain (“Sleight of Hand”) is scored for large orchestra, Yamaha SY99 synthesizer, and signal processing. It was composed during the fall of 1993 under the guidance of Berkeley professor Edwin Dugger and is dedicated to director Jung-Ho Pak and the University of California, Berkeley, Symphony Orchestra.

In composing Legerdemain, I first created the electronic sounds using the Yamaha SY99 and sound tools designed in the Max programming language. Analyses of these sounds influenced the timbral, rhythmic, and harmonic aspects of Legerdemain’s composition and orchestration. For example, spectral analyses of the electronic sounds generated many of the accompanying harmonic colors given to the orchestra: one bell-like sound consists predominantly of a fundamental pitch and its second, seventh, and eighteenth harmonics. Harmonic colors are then constructed with these pitches, keeping in mind appropriate intensities and intonation. The amplitude modulation of individual partials suggested many of Legerdemain’s polyrhythmic and dynamic qualities.

Polyrhythms also occur as a result of real-time signal processing of the orchestral signal. Five microphones are necessary for the performance of Legerdemain. One is located directly inside of the piano; two are directed toward the woodwinds, and two are overhead, picking up the entire orchestral sound. These signals are then sent to a Lexicon LXP5 signal processor, which is manipulated in real-time via a Macintosh running the Max programming language. For example, the length and speed of the digital delays are continually in flux during the performance as the computer outputs controlled aleatoric information via MIDI.

In Legerdemain I have attempted to combine the electronic sounds of the synthesizer with the acoustic sound of the symphony orchestra. My goal is to achieve complex composite sonorities that are not easily identifiable as wholly electronic or wholly acoustic. If this ambiguity arises in the performance of Legerdemain then its title is justified, although perhaps “sleight of ear” would hove been more appropriate.

  – Anthony De Ritis (1994)

De Ritis composed Legerdemain in 1994 at the request of the UC Berkeley Symphony Orchestra’s then-music director Jung-Ho Pak. The piece was quite consciously an approach to bringing together the resources of a standard symphony orchestra with the composer’s ideas about computer/performer interactivity, stemming from his Fontainebleau experience as well as his work at Berkeley’s Center for New Music and Audio Technologies (CNMAT). The piece is a single twelve-minute movement. The title Legerdemain, meaning “sleight of hand,” borrows the term for the kinds of tricks stage magicians have up their sleeves. Here, the illusion is that the listener experiences sounds that may or may not be “live”—slight variances make the conclusion less than obvious. The sounds of the performing orchestra are modified in real time via a Lexicon LXP-5 reverb/delay processor controlled by the Yamaha SY99 synthesizer’s key velocities: that is, the virtual sonic “space” of the orchestra is continually changing in dynamic and fluid ways. The listener is frequently left to wonder whether the sound heard originates in the orchestra itself or in its electronically expanded doppelganger. This ambiguity is amplified by De Ritis’s use of extended techniques, aleatoric (that is, chance-controlled) patterns, microtonal inflections, and unusual combinations of instruments

   – Robert Kirzinger (2012)


Legerdemain (1994), an explosive 10-minute piece for orchestra and electronics, with the orchestral sound extended with a reverb-delay processor controlled by a synthesizer. The work is both angular and static, with a background of ‘tau’ harmonies and clear, almost tonal root progression typical of the spectralist style.”

– Allen Gimbel, American Record Guide (November 1, 2012)

“In the 10-minute tour de force Legerdemain, De Ritis plays at combining synthesized sound with its acoustic representation, reflecting science’s discovery of additional dimensions. The recording of the performing orchestra was processed in real time to provide an additional musical element for the final mix.”

– Laurence Vittes, Gramophone (October 1, 2012)

Legerdemain, from 1994, mixes orchestral and computerized sounds, but in such a way that the boundaries are thoroughly blurred: Are those strings or a string pad? Oscillators or flutter-tonguing? On record, untangling the two is even more difficult, and one instead notices the score’s miscellany of dialects, flipping through expressionist angst and cinematic thrills in equal measure, a stylistic salmagundi to match the means of production.”

– Matthew Guerrieri, New Music Box (August 14, 2012)

Legerdemain (“Sleight of hand”) stems from 1994 and was composed for the U.C. Berkeley Symphony and Jung-Ho Pak. This brilliantly ethereal, wispy work is also a good example of what became De Ritis technique for incorporating ever changing electronic sound sources into traditional acoustical textures; a model he acquired from studying the work of French composer Gilbert Amy. In Legerdemain, the electronic component is actually that of the orchestra modified during performance (in real time) by a reverb/delay unit and synthesizer. There are some chance elements in the score and the sound to the audience is frequently difficult to distinguish between that produced by the live instrumentalists or the synthesizer modified sounds just heard. In listening to the piece, it is frequently difficult to hear where the acoustical sources end and their electronically mixed antecedents begin; but that makes for some truly interesting and sonically vivid effects.

– Daniel Coombs, Audiophile Audition (July 31, 2012)

“1994’s Legerdemain, or ‘Sleight of Hand,’ made some prescient use of computerized music that leaves the listener questioning what is performed ‘live’ and what is prerecorded.”

– Olivia Giovetti, WQXR (June 11, 2012)

“This 11-minute piece augments a large orchestra with electronic sounds. It starts with big percussion crashes alternating with soft, mysterious chords, and ends with a fortissimo climax.”

– Caldwell Titcomb, The Arts Fuse (June 1, 2010)

“Anthony De Ritis’s Legerdemain sustained a dramatically dark-hued mood: bursts of action (one featuring cop-show-worthy driving cymbal) interrupted stases that gave room for electronic sounds to resonate.”

– Matthew Guerrieri, The Boston Globe (May 31, 2010)

“Anthony De Ritis’ Legerdemain was a wonderful beginning, full of synthesizers and multiple microphones placed in different sections of the orchestra. Percussion joined to somewhat creepy strings developed an angst-ridden, very blue twilight followed by a woodwind battle and rising emotional crescendo which somehow reminded me of Britten’s altered state in Death in Venice. The piece moved forward, suggesting a stand-off between two unknown players, using excellent haunting horns and robust orchestral fullness.”

– Carolyn Gregory, Stylus (May 28, 2010)


– Susan Miron, Boston Music Intelligencer (May 29, 2010)

View Score

Legerdemain was recorded on May 30, 2010 in Jordan Hall at New England Conservatory (Boston, MA) by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project under the direction of Gil Rose; and released on BMOP/sound 1022, on April 30, 2012.

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